PDHblog This is a place for members of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i to express their thoughts, hopes and exasperations about political happenings.

January 10, 2008

Who is the most progressive presidential candidate?

OK, here’s this to ponder, from Progressive Punch, listed in descending order by their Progressive Score:

Senator Clinton    91.29    16/100
Senator Obama      88.76    24/100
Rep. Kucinich      87.42   121/432
Senator Dodd       86.57    28/100
Senator Biden      84.26    31/100

Ha! You didn’t know that both Obama and Clinton were more progressive than Kooch? Of course, the mix of House data is different from Senate issues, but I think these ratings will surprise many.

The big problem with Clinton’s score, for me, is in the categories of

War & Peace (17 subcategories)                                    80.30      39/100(T), and
Human Rights & Civil Liberties (9 subcategories)      82.22      30/ 99(T)

Those two scores really bug me, and are not at all in progressive territory.



  1. Hi Bob,

    Progressive Punch employs a methodology that strives hard to be objective, and it is useful as an indicator of “liberalism” (or “conservatism”) in the large majority of cases. But it breaks down in the case of someone like Kucinich, who is to “the Left” of the group of legislators used to develop their “ideal” progressive vote on any issue.

    This may sound like I am making excuses for Kucinich rather than facing the facts. Back in the Akaka-Case race, I was the person who was strongly recommending Progressive Punch and now I am disputing its value. Obviously, I must be a hypocrite! But look closely. Here is a partial explanation of their methodology:

    “…we came up with a list of six hard-core progressive United States Senators (6% of that body) and 39 hard-core progressive United States Representatives (about 9% of that body). The algorithm that we’ve used to come up with these progressive scores is as follows: We take ANY VOTE in which a majority of the progressives we’ve identified–so in the House say, if there were no absences, it would be 20 of the 39–voted in opposition to a majority of the Republican caucus and have that vote qualify for the database.”

    They list the members of Congress used by their methodolgy for determining the “progressive position” on the same page.

    If we use a conventional linear model of the “political spectrum”, “left” to “right”, they are taking a cluster of reps near the ends of the spectrum, but NOT at the ends, to constitute their progressive and conservative model groups. Once that group is defined as the model, PP observes their voting behavior and a vote consistent with a majority of that group’s vote is, according to their methodology, “progressive.” (Or “conservative” on the right.)

    How does this work out in practice? Well, you said you were unhappy with Clinton’s score on “War and Peace Issues”: 80.30.
    Let’s look at Dennis “War and Peace” score: 77.70! Oh my God, you are right! Clinton IS more “progressive” than the Kooch!

    If you “drill down” into the specific issues and see where they deviated from the consensus “progressive” votes, you will see that Dennis “deviates” to the left of the model group and Hillary deviates to the right. But they both “deviate.” They both reject the modeled “progressive” position. The PP methodology is useful in tracking Hillary’s score, but breaks down with Kucinich.

    Included in the War and Peace category are votes on the War in Iraq. On those multiple votes, Dennis repeatedly broke with the “progressive” consensus position because they were settling for compromises that set unenforceable withdrawal dates in exchange for funding of the war and Dennis repeatedly refused to vote for any funding.

    Because the “progressive” position is determined by the votes of a majority of their sample group (20 out of 39) such a methodology has the potential to repeatedly misidentify the votes of the leftmost members of congress. I cannot find a score on the issue of impeachment in the PP index. It is probably not there because that target group whose voting behavior defines “progressive” on this scale does not have a majority that supports impeachment. So that small handful of members that DO support impeachment have their courageous leadership on this KEY issue totally ignored by the methodology.

    I have “drilled down” into those areas where Dennis received a low score. I recommend you do the same. I found a few votes where, on the face of it, I might disagree with Dennis’s vote. But I noticed that Dennis’s rejection of budgets that included spending for the Iraq War was used to penalize him again and again when those budgets included funding for programs supported by progressives. So, I would argue, that throws off his progressivity score in that issue area. Dennis also lost a lot of points in the scoring for being absent on close votes. I am not defending his absences, but that is not exactly an accurate means of judging his progressivity.

    I respect what Josh Grossman is attempting to do with PP. He is trying real hard to avoid subjectivity in measuring the “progressivity” of members of Congress. But if you were to talk to him, I suspect he would be the first to acknowledge the inability of his methodology to correctly measure Kucinich’s progressivity and would not agree that Hillary (or Barack) is more progressive than Dennis.

    The notion that Obama or Hillary is more “progressive” than Dennis is an obvious mistake by other measures as well. Look at our SHIPS program. Or the SHIPS+E questions we have assembled for our presidential forum. Stop the war? Whose position is more progressive? Healthcare for All? Impeach the Bastards? Public Financing of Elections? Sustainable economics? Economic Justice?

    The only presidential candidate who can come close to Dennis’s voting record on any of those issues is John Edwards, who has supports complete public financing of elections and has been very passionate and effective in raising issues of economic justice during the campaign. Edwards condemns NAFTA and opposes its expansion, but has not called for its termination.

    If anyone suspects that I am distorting the facts and making excuses for Dennis’s voting record, please spend a few minutes examining the areas where Dennis scores relatively low on the Progressive Punch index.

    You can find Kucinich’s scores here:

    You can find Clinton’s scores here:

    You can find Obama’s scores here:

    Check for yourself, Bob, to see if what I am saying explains how Hillary got a higher rating than Kucinich.

    And please report back to this blog with what you find.

    Comment by Bartman — January 11, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

  2. Sorry for my sloppy coding. I had used carrot brackets on the URLs, which apparently turned them invisible. (Good for emails, though!)

    Here they are again.

    You can find Kucinich’s scores here:

    You can find Clinton’s scores here:

    You can find Obama’s scores here:

    Comment by bartman — January 11, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

  3. Bart,
    Thanks for your follow-up on this, and your careful description of PP’s methodology. I’ll just note here that there are basically two ways to define anything: one is to define by enumerating specific characteristics (e.g., “Spiders have 8 legs”), and the other is to define by showing a bunch of examples (e.g., “here’s a bunch of spiders.”) PP chose the later strategy, because they realized how difficult it would be to come up with a set of defining characteristics of progressives.

    Taking your point further, we can look at who some of those “Progressives” are. In the House, their exemplars of progressives are

    Baldwin, Tammy-WI
    Becerra, Xavier-CA
    Capuano, Michael E.-MA
    Clarke, Yvette-NY
    Conyers, John Jr.-MI
    Davis, Danny K.-IL
    Filner, Bob-CA
    Frank, Barney-MA
    Grijalva, Raúl M.-AZ
    Hinchey, Maurice D.-NY
    Hirono, Mazie-HI
    Holt, Rush D.-NJ
    Honda, Michael M.-CA
    Jackson, Jesse L. Jr.-IL
    Lee, Barbara-CA
    Lewis, John-GA
    Markey, Edward J.-MA
    Matsui, Doris-CA
    McDermott, Jim-WA
    McGovern, James P.-MA
    Miller, George-CA
    Moore, Gwen-WI
    Nadler, Jerrold-NY
    Olver, John W.-MA
    Payne, Donald M.-NJ
    Pelosi, Nancy-CA
    Roybal-Allard, Lucille-CA
    Sánchez, Linda T.-CA
    Schakowsky, Janice D.-IL
    Solis, Hilda L.-CA
    Stark, Fortney Pete-CA
    Tierney, John F.-MA
    Velázquez, Nydia M.-NY
    Waters, Maxine-CA
    Watson, Diane E.-CA
    Watt, Melvin L.-NC
    Waxman, Henry A.-CA
    Welch, Peter-VT
    Woolsey, Lynn C.-CA

    Note first who is not on the list: Kucinich!
    Note next who *is* on the list: Nancy “Impeachment is off the Table” Pelosi!
    Also, our own Mazie Hirono.

    I think they made a mistake here. They should have just taken all members of the House who self-identify as progressive by being members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (http://cpc.lee.house.gov/). Kucinich, Abercrombie, Hirono and Pelosi are all among the 63 members.

    Who are their exemplars in the Senate? Just six:

    Boxer, Barbara-CA
    Durbin, Richard-IL
    Lautenberg, Frank R.-NJ
    Kennedy, Edward M-MA
    Reed, Jack-RI
    Sanders, Bernard-VT

    Notice that neither Clinton or Obama are on the list. The only senator on the CPC list is Bernie Sanders (For some reason, Democratic Senators don’t join the CPC. Sanders is included, I think, because he’s one of the founders.)

    So, essentially, Bart is right. If you really want to know who’s more “progressive,” you’re going to have to figure out what that means for you, and then do the research yourself– unless you identify with a like-minded group who will do the research for you.

    In an ideal world, Progressive Democrats of Hawaii would do the numbers for you. I can even imagine a methodology, but I don’t have the time to implement it. And then you and Bart might not agree with my progressive “standards” anyway. I can only tell you that it would look a lot like our SHIPS platform, but the devil is always in the details.


    Comment by BobSchacht — January 13, 2008 @ 9:58 pm

  4. Devil is in the details? I’d say so if you are trying to say Clinton is remotely as progressive as either Kuccinich or Edwards. Just listen to them speak. Please.

    Comment by Janette Brown — January 21, 2008 @ 12:04 am

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